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Mucking out the Cooum

Members from the Transparent Chennai team attended the public consultation on the Cooum River Restoration Project on 13th June 2013 at the PWD Office in Chepauk. The Chennai Rivers Restoration Trust (CRRT) had appointed LKS Group from Spain to come up with a plan to restore the Cooum River. The meeting began with a presentation that described the project, identified problems, and proposed solutions. This was followed by a Q&A session, where members of the public could raise questions and express concerns.

For the most part, the brief presentation by the LKS team consisted of context-less pictures showing pollution along and in the river, location of slums on the flood plain, and proposed solutions for sewage and garbage disposal with parks and cycling tracks for the public[1]. Three solutions were proposed for slums along the river – in-situ rehabilitation, rehabilitation within the same radius, or resettlement at a faraway location (in case the other alternatives were not viable). However, the presentation did not include detailed findings from studies or surveys with information like total project cost, percentage of slums that fall under flood-prone areas, or details of slums that could be rehabilitated in-situ and those that would have to be resettled.

Public opinion ranged from environmental concerns to concerns about measures to rehabilitate the affected slum dwellers; the need to prevent pollution of the river caused by sewage disposal; the need for measures to deal with vector-borne diseases; the lack of clarity on the expenditure on and the timeline of the project; and concerns about co-ordination between various government agencies in the implementation of the project. While a few people welcomed the idea of having a beautiful riverfront similar to Singapore and London, most people present at the meeting were concerned about the seeming inevitability of large-scale displacement of slum dwellers.

Many slum dwellers expressed support for clean-up of the river but voiced concerns about its effects on the lives of people living in informal settlements along the river. The recent history of slum policies in the city suggests that their concerns are valid: though the project charted out three solutions for affected informal settlements along the river, the third option of relocation has been the one most frequently adopted in recent times. Although there are schemes like the Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY) that prioritize in-situ rehabilitation, the TNSCB has not implemented an in-situ slum improvement project in Chennai in many years. Many slum dwellers are daily wage laborers, or work in the informal sector. Relocating them to far-flung resettlement colonies such as Kannagi Nagar, Semmencheri, etc. (which are ironically, also susceptible to flooding[2]) can destroy their livelihoods. Moreover, when people are relocated, the houses that they are allotted have historically had very poor living conditions, with limited access to basic services especially when they are first moved. Hence, members of the public insisted that the project must not rely on the relocation option.

Louis Menezes, a former IAS officer who once headed the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority, pointed out that there is evidence to show that Metrowater is largely responsible for discharge of sewage into the river. He referenced a study conducted many years ago that found that the government is responsible for approximately 90% of the sewage outflow into the river, but pointed out that the Government has not taken any measures to stop its own pollution. He also claimed that the bigger institutions and companies that have encroached upon the banks of the river,and might also be contributors of pollution are usually untouched. Instead, slum dwellers are often erroneously assumed to be the main cause of pollution, and this has often been used as an excuse to evict them[3].

Attendees at the consultation also asserted that by not advertising the public consultation adequately, and by holding the meeting at a location that was far away from the affected sites, the public consultation was cooptation in disguise. The meeting did not include many of the residents from the river banks who would actually be affected by this project. There was only limited representation from community groups and NGOs, who spoke on behalf of the affected persons. Although this project would involve multiple government agencies like Metrowater, Corporation, and the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board, their representatives were also not present to answer public queries. There was also no time for the public to reflect on the details presented and revert with questions.

Unfortunately, when pressed for various project details, the consultants didn’t have answers to most questions that were raised but promised to revert with details, and make available project details at their office. The consultants said that as the project included many components, it was unable to provide cost estimates at this stage.

To us, as observers of the event, it seemed that the project proposal lacked a true public purpose as the focus was not on providing necessary services to those who live on the river banks such as water and sewerage connections, transportation to schools and places of work, health facilities, etc. Paths for walking and cycling and landscaped parks are important civic amenities, but they are not the most urgent current needs of city residents.

With all the allegations of the government being responsible for polluting the Cooum, and squandering away public money for beautification projects, we need clear details before we will actually see clear waters in the Cooum.


[1]The Hindu.http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/restore-cooum-but-relocation-must-be-close-by-say-residents/article4811452.ece
[2]Economic and Political Weekly, 45, 21.
[3]Ibid.

Written by Nidhi Subramanyam and Diana Evangeline, interns, Transparent Chennai

The Speaker Series: Talk on the history of radical mapping and participatory mapping

The Speaker Series at Transparent Chennai was revived after a brief hiatus, and how! Research scholars Joanna Guldi and Zachary Gates held us in thrall with a brief, riveting history of radical mapping and participatory mapping last week. I would be speaking for most people at office if I were to say that despite already being mapping enthusiasts and advocates, the talk taught us a lot more about the true potential and significance of maps in capitalist society.

Maps have played an important role in building common consensus, pointing to the existence of enclaves of abundance for the rich, and highlighting the need for a “new commons”. But did you know that while the global movement of participatory mapping gained steam in the 20th century, the foundations were perhaps laid many years ago. The rise of popularity of the “walking tour” in the early 1920s was particularly crucial: it made history accessible to all, and became a tool using which neighbourhoods could be understood and re-imagined. Post the 1976 UN Habitat Conference, participatory mapping methods were recognised, and in the 1990s, became very prominent.

The instances of indigenous and marginalized peoples in Canada, Scotland and the Philippines using radical participatory mapping methods to complement their oral traditions and to better represent their conceptions of ownership and use of lands were fascinating. Maps, which were typically used by the elite to marginalize vulnerable sections of the population, have been used to represent a different history of resources, boundaries, land use and planning. This was exemplified by the instance of the Inuits successfully reclaiming their lost land and the slum dwellers of Hyderabad mapping their slums to prevent evictions in the 1980s.

The discussion after the talk also got us very excited on new participatory methods we could incorporate into our work, like the transect walk and juxtaposing community information layers on surveyors’ layers to enrich maps prepared for government programmes. Watch this space for updates!

Written by Priti Narayan, researcher, Transparent Chennai

Why are water and sanitation services for the poor so severely inadequate?

Why are water and sanitation services for the poor so severely inadequate? That is the question that came to mind when I was mapping and surveying public toilets on Saturday, February 16. While I do not have a satisfactory answer, I did make certain observations that could be plausible reasons for poor services.

I found two public toilets – both in slums, one on Appaswamy 6th Avenue and the other at the end of Appaswamy 7th Avenue – both in Ward 110 (Nungambakkam). Both toilets were built and are maintained by the Corporation, use motor pumps to draw groundwater and are connected to the city’s sewer network. The one on 6th Avenue is used by local residents while the other was used mostly by passersby. A larger proportion of the households in the second slum had private toilets. Maintenance could be of the building structure itself, the fixtures like doors, taps and lights, and also cleanliness. Both toilet structures were good and it was evident that recent repairs had been undertaken. However, neither had any doors for the cubicles, very poor lighting, and only the taps outside the cubicles worked. That is two taps each for each toilet complex! These taps were connected to the overhead tanks to which water was pumped once every day but when we went to these toilets between 10 and 11 am the water was over! Residents near both toilets said that the Corporation staff kept the key to the motor room and switched on the motor pump only once a day. Despite the same problem, the toilet on 6th Avenue was much cleaner than the one on 7th Avenue, where all toilet cubicles had faeces, blocked drains and a strong odour. This made me wonder whether the quality of maintenance was dependent on the number of users. Moreover, did the fact that a large number of the users were local residents have implications for the quality of maintenance?

On the 6th Avenue, there was one black water tank, with a capacity of 1000 litres, near the toilet but a lock had been placed on its tap. The women washing clothes beside it explained that Metrowater sent a tanker with potable water and each tanker cost Rs.500. This was strictly used for drinking and one of the residents kept the key to the tap to ensure that the water was not misused. This person collected a standard price of Rs.1 for four pots of water, or 25 paise per pot. At the other slum there were two such tanks but neither had locks on the taps. Women washing clothes nearby used a hand pump to draw water for washing. The women washing clothes near the toilet on 6th Avenue take water from the toilet because the hand pump is broken and has not been repaired in years.

At both slums we were told that the Corporation staff used Gammeaxane for cleaning the toilets. Gammexane – a compound of benzene and chloride – is also the standard disinfectant the Corporation uses for streets and urinal hotspots. Unfortunately, the use of Gammexane as an insecticide has been banned in the UK and USA, among other countries because of its toxicity. The chemical is known to contaminate water and food chains, causing adverse effects in humans and animals.

When asked residents said they did not complain about the lack of water and sanitation services, primarily because they did not think the Corporation would listen or do anything about them. They were equally disillusioned with their councillor who had not visited their ward in close to three months! The residents of 7th Avenue informally registered complaints with the Tamil Nadu Housing Board, which has built a tenement there close to 30 years ago. Yet, they do not complain because “they do not want to jeopardise the situation here which is better than what was in the slum they were living in earlier”, implying a precarious relationship with the state.

So why are water and sanitation services for the poor so severely inadequate? Perhaps, it is because the Corporation of Chennai considers slum dwellers beneficiaries, not citizens. Or is it because the councillor does not consider their problems worth representing even though their votes contributed to his election to the post? Or it could be because the residents have inadequate ownership over the public infrastructure. Or just a combination of all these reasons and more…

Written by Satyarupa Shekhar, researcher at Transparent Chennai

More Questions than Answers: Water supply and the urban poor in Chennai

The Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (CMWWSB), popularly known as Metrowater, was established in 1978 under the Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Act, 1978. The Board, a parastatal agency that operates under the control of the state government, provides water and sewerage services in the Chennai metropolitan area.[1] The Board erects public hydrants, fire hydrants or other conveniences for public use, “subject to the payment by an existing authority or other public authority of such charges as the Board may determine.”[2] It provides water and sewerage connections to citizens if they reside within 30 meters of a water main or public sewer, and are willing to bear the costs involved in connecting their premises to the main and for its repair, alteration and maintenance within their premises.

But does the Board’s mission of contributing “towards health and quality of life of the citizens of Chennai city by providing good quality safe drinking water at reasonable price”[3] translate into reality for the city’s urban poor? Karen Coelho reports that by the late 1990s, Metrowater gradually and unofficially withdrew free supply of water in the form of stand pipes, possibly to encourage low-income households to get private water connections.[4] She argues that since the Board was styled according to the global policy discourse – as avowedly apolitical and commercial – it has inevitably prioritized revenue generation from private connections and marginalized the urban poor.

In this context, it is important to ask a few fundamental questions. What is the official policy of the Board towards slums and informal settlements? Is the Board able to cross-subsidize its services for the poor? Does it recover its costs from a local authority, or does it combine both strategies?

Economically weaker sections (EWS) may avail of concessions in water and sewer connection charges. Water connections are awarded at a concessional rate only if the applicant has a functioning sewer connection. Importantly, one of the eligibility criteria to avail of the EWS water connection involves the applicant submitting letters to the Revenue department of the Corporation of Chennai and the Finance department of the CMWSSB seeking the levy of property tax and the calculation of water and sewerage tax.[5] Unfortunately, in informal settlements and most resettlement sites, property rights are often difficult to define, and hence difficult to levy. In order to service slums, which usually do not have piped water, the Board provides water using water tankers, and charges Rs. 4 per 1000 litres of water and Rs. 200 per month for the maintenance of its water tankers.[6]

A fact finding report conducted by the Forum for Securing Land and Livelihood Rights of Coastal Communities (FLLRC) and the Citizens Rights Forum (CRF) revealed that in resettlement colonies like Kannagi Nagar and Semmenchery, water is provided by the Metrowater Board in tankers but distributed amongst the community by the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board (TNSCB).[7] Is this sharing of responsibility for supply the practice in all slums in Chennai? How does the TNSCB store, distribute and receive payment for this water from slum dwellers?

The fact finding team revealed that according to official estimates, a person resettled in Kannagi Nagar or Semmenchery receives 21 litres of water per day, while a family receives around 103 litres for both drinking and domestic purposes. However, accounts of residents in these areas point to substantial inconsistencies between official estimates and how much water actually comes out of their taps. It is revealing to examine why this is so and ask what happens to the water that has been “officially” supplied to the site.


[1]Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Act, 1978
[2]Chapter VI, Section 43 (2), Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Act of 1978
[3]http://www.chennaimetrowater.tn.nic.in/index.htm
[4]http://infochangeindia.org/agenda/the-politics-of-water/the-political-economy-of-public-sector-water-utilities-reform.html
[5]http://www.chennaimetrowater.tn.nic.in/rti/rti_Reg_EWS.htm
[6]http://www.chennaimetrowater.tn.nic.in/departments/finance/tariff.htm
[7]http://sccommissioners.org/Correspondence/chennai100410.pdf

Written by Vinaya Padmanabhan, Intern, Transparent Chennai

Decentralisation derailed

The limits of Chennai city have recently expanded and the Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (CMWSSB), the parastatal body responsible for regulating water supply and sewerage services, is gearing up to offer its services to the newly merged areas of the city. Earlier this year, the Board had started monitoring the level and quality of groundwater available[1] and had also planned to construct dedicated area and depot offices[2] in these areas. The Board has also entrusted the Tamil Nadu Urban Infrastructure Financial Services Limited with the task of appointing a consultancy firm to work out a water tariff structure for the 42 newly added municipalities, local bodies which levy different water tariffs and have varied accounting systems.[3] According to reports, the Board will complete its project reports for services in the merged areas by August 2012 and expects to have its water and sewerage network functioning in these areas in three years.[4]

While the city has expanded and been reorganized into fifteen zones and 200 wards,[5] basic services, like the water and sewerage facilities that CMWSSB provides, are yet to reach citizens in these areas. In February 2012, a newspaper reported[6] that many residents living in the newly merged areas were yet to receive drinking water from the CMWSSB, and were relying on groundwater and private water resources. As is evident from this case, these areas have been left in limbo – with infrastructure and service provision still in the planning stage and no urban local bodies to reflect their localized concerns and requirements.

Before the city limits were revised, the Tamil Nadu Water Supply and Drainage Board (TWAD) was responsible for planning and executing schemes for water supply and drainage[7] in the areas administered by the 42 municipalities. This Board drafts schemes which, if considered feasible, are implemented by local authorities. The costs of preparing and executing the schemes, however, had to be borne by the local authorities in the area. The local authorities are also not involved in the planning of these schemes.

Important to note is how the authority of local governments is often undermined by the architecture of local governance. For instance, like most state owned companies, parastatals like CMWSSB and TWAD were established before the landmark 74th Amendment to the Constitution, which strengthened the idea of local governance. The Amendment called for the establishment of Metropolitan Planning Committees[8] (MPCs) which would coordinate policies and programmes of all development agencies, design investment programmes, execute special urban projects and monitor and evaluate regional development projects.[9] Most importantly, these Metropolitan Planning Committees also contain a proportion of elected representatives, members elected by the members of the municipalities and chairpersons of the panchayats in the Metropolitan area from amongst themselves.[10] The Tamil Nadu State Finance Commission (SFC), anticipating the overlap of work between MPCs and parastatals, has issued some recommendations clarifying the roles and functions of CMWSSB and TWAD.[11] However the Committee is yet to be established in Chennai[12] and autonomous parastatals like the CMWSSB and the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority continue to set the agenda of development for Chennai and its peri-urban areas.


[1]http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/article2835094.ece
[2]http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/article3544173.ece
[3]http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/article3529244.ece
[4]http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/article3529245.ece
[5]http://www.chennaicorporation.gov.in/Land_Estate/city_expansion.html
[6]http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/article2854614.ece
[7]The Tamil Nadu Water Supply and Drainage Board Act (TWAD) 1970
[8]243ZE, 2(b), The Constitution (Seventy-Fourth Amendment Act), 1992
[9]http://www.niua.org/publications/research_studies/urban_governance/UNDP-ch-3.pdf
[10]243ZE, 2(b), The Constitution (Seventy-Fourth Amendment Act), 1992
[11]http://www.niua.org/publications/research_studies/urban_governance/UNDP-ch-3.pdf
[12]http://www.eastwestcenter.org/fileadmin/resources/seminars/Urbanization_Seminar/Paper_for_EWC_KMC_Workshop_by_K.C._Sivaramakrishnan__for_web_.pdf

Written by Vinaya Padmanabhan, Intern, Transparent Chennai

Pushing for declaration

(Cross posted on Terra Urban: http://terraurban.wordpress.com/)

On July 21, 2012, the Transparent Chennai team kickstarted our work on slums and informal settlements with a workshop on slum history. We had nearly 100 people attend the meeting, including members of slum-based organizations and trade unions, NGOs, researchers and academics, and students.

The workshop was meant to be a stocktaking – we wanted to survey the entire history of programs and policies towards slums in the state and see how these policies had been implemented in the city, and the impacts they had on the urban poor. In addition to presenting the findings from our own research, we also invited slum-dwellers to share their experiences of accessing services and eviction and asked local experts for their feedback on planning regulations in the city.

What we found from our research was shocking to us. In the 1970s, Chennai had a fairly progressive history of policymaking towards slums. The state passed the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Act in 1971, which essentially stated that the government was only supposed to intervene in slums for the purpose of improving them (and not, for example, to move slums to make way for infrastructure as happens now!). It said that the government needed to first identify slums according to the definition given in the Act, officially recognize them or ‘declare’ them under the Act, and then improve them by adding basic services or by building better housing in-situ.

They declared 1,202 slums in 1971, and spent the next few years building thousands of units of tenements in-situ to benefit slum-dwellers all over the city.Under the World Bank funded Madras Urban Development Programs (MUDP) and the Tamil Nadu Urban Development Programs (TNUDP), the city built thousands of “Sites-and-Services” plots in large mixed income colonies. Today, many of these original allotees have built second and third floors and are earning substantial rental incomes from their homes, providing their families with stability and helping them to permanently escape poverty.[1]

But since then, the government has not followed the dictates of the Act. No new slums have been recognized for 27 years. But many new slums have come up as the city has grown, and the Corporation boundaries have expanded. This means that hundreds of thousands of city residents live in a limbo: they live in constant fear of eviction, and they are not eligible for any of the government programs to improve services in slums because the government does not recognize the slums they live in. This has had predictable consequences: a 2002 survey by the Slum Clearance Board in undeclared slums found dismal levels of access to water and sanitation.

The government has also been evicting large numbers of slum-dwellers from the city to make way for new infrastructure projects and as part of city beautification projects. Our research found that at least 20,000 households were evicted from the city between 2005 and 2009 alone, and more evictions have taken place since then.

And the government no longer builds in-situ tenements. Almost all of the money spent by the Slum Clearance Board in the last 15 years has gone towards building large-scale resettlement colonies on the outskirts of the city, where evicted residents from both declared and undeclared slums have been sent – in complete defiance of the guidelines for intervening in slums set down in the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Act. The money for these colonies has come from the JNNURM, despite the Mission’s stated emphasis on in-situ rehabilitation. Residents of slums who attended the workshop shared harrowing stories of evictions that took place as a result of these practices, and others described the inhumane levels of services in their neighborhoods.

So what now?

The individuals and groups that attended the workshop agreed that they needed to work together to push the government to declare existing slums, provide better services, and stop the practice of resettlement into far-away ghettos. The groups agreed to call the network the “Right to City Movement: Chennai for all,” and members agreed to organize events together to bring attention to the flaws in slum policies and the way they were being implemented in the state.

We are very excited about the creation of this network, and hope that we can play a role in supporting its activities. We also believe that such an active network is important because new urban development schemes are on the table including the Rajiv AwasYojana and the JNNURM II. As the central government plans to spend much more money for the urban poor, we are hoping that there will now be a strong voice advocating that this money be spent in ways that really improve conditions for slum-dwellers in the city.


[1]This observation comes from research we recently conducted for the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation where we surveyed residents from a sites and services site in Kodungaiyur.

Written by Nithya V Raman, Project Director, Transparent Chennai

Access to household latrines in India 2011

Census 2011 figures are out and everybody is talking about it. So am I. Have a look at this graph which gives you a bird’s eye view of access to household latrines in India:

(Click to zoom in)

In Tamil Nadu, the situation has only marginally improved over the last decade. More than 50 percent of the households in Tamil Nadu still don’t have access to household latrines. One would have expected Tamil Nadu to do a lot better. However, it is a relief to see that access hasn’t worsened in any of the states across India. Many states like Himachal Pradesh and Goa have performed extremely well: In 2001, around 67% of households had no access to latrines in Himachal Pradesh. Today, the figure stands at 30% which is commendable. Similarly, Goa’s situation has improved from 41% of households having no access to latrines in 2001 to 20% in 2011.

Now is the time to learn from each other’s experiences and move towards a completely sanitized society with no open defecation. Do come back to read a detailed analysis (through a series of blogposts) of the sanitation situation in India using Census figures.

- Somya

A visit to Kalyanapuram slum in ward 57

As Transparent Chennai gears up to do its next Ward Accountability Experiment (WAE) in Ward 57, a few of us from the team decided to visit a slum in that ward, Kalyanapuram – after all, one of WAE’s objective is to understand and generate data on spatial inequity within a ward. We wanted to understand the issues that slum dwellers face due to lack of infrastructure and the lack of access to existing infrastructure. It was important to understand the history of the slum first, for which we met with a few members of the slum community who were part of ‘Ambedkar Kazhagams*’ in the area.

The Kalyanapuram non-notified slum, comprising 1000 families, is but a chip of a bigger slum settlement in this area. One part of the Kalyanapuram slum, consisting only 250 families, moved into notified Tamil Nadu Housing Board tenements erected in situ in 1974. The Kalyanapuram non-notified slum that continues to exist seems to be resting on what is a combination of railway, government and PWD land.

Since the Corporation has started work on eviction in this area, our conversation centred on possible rehabilitation to Kannagi Nagar. The impression we got from the people we interacted with, was one of considerable anger directed at the government, and a strong resistance to eviction. A notice was given to the community 15 years ago proposing a resettlement plan with the promise of better livelihood, but the move was resisted. According to Kannadasan, a local leader, slum dwellers (and Dalits) are always asked to sacrifice their already existing limited comforts, for the “development” and “beautification” of the city. As far as Kalyanapuram is concerned, the real estate value of surrounding areas is very high, and so if the slums are cleared out, the government can make high profits through real estate, he added.

After the meeting, we set out to map the area. The living conditions in the Kalyanapuram slum leave a lot to be desired. Households lack running water and depend on community hand pumps for water. The outermost part of Kalyanapuram is a garbage dump that outlines the Cooum, and serves as defecation grounds for those living in the slum. Women were seen washing vessels and clothes in the open space in front of a public toilet facility. Electricity is available by means of illegal power lines, and those who live in rented houses pay a fixed amount to access this electricity.

Woodwharf, a slum that adjoins Kalyanapuram, is relatively newer, with bigger houses and newer housing material. (Only a part of Woodwharf lies in Ward 57.) Along the entire stretch of the Woodwharf slum, one could see several small-scale manufacturing units of bamboo goods and stainless steel vessels, and mechanic shops.

In spite of the considerable time we spent on the site, we could only understand the basic civic issues of the slum dwellers pertaining to electricity and water access. We hope that this WAE would be a good first step towards improving conditions in this settlement with strong data backing the community’s demands for better infrastructure availability and access.

* Ambedkar Kazhagam was started by the community in the area to voice out the needs of the community and to organise the community to get better access to education and other basic infrastructure. The main objective of the party was to provide education to the children residing in the entire slum in and around Kalyanapuram. This party has also been actively engaged in the fight against eviction to Kannagi Nagar.

- Srinidhi and Priti from the ward accountability team at Transparent Chennai

THE POOR STATE OF ACCESSIBILITY FOR THE POOR

Can you imagine someone in Poes Garden complaining about roads that have not been laid in a decade? Or a Boat Club area resident complaining about the heaps of waste accumulated at the corner because the garbage collectors have not turned up in weeks?

The system is always kind to the affluent, or at least, fair to them in an otherwise unfair world. The already-disadvantaged more often than not, get a raw deal. Historically, the socially and economically weak Dalits have occupied the fringes of any village, furthest away from the centre where life would be infinitely more convenient, and perhaps continue to sit on the fringes. Many people escape to urban space for anonymity and the promise of a better life and livelihood, only to realize that the city is just as discriminating. We still hear oftribes in their newly minted housing colony located right on top of the Karuvadikuppam garbage dump in Puducherry, and see slum dwellers being “rehabilitated” to sites outside of city limits, many kilometers away from solid sources of livelihood, decent schools and adequate infrastructure. Unfortunately, this seems to be the case even in a housing scheme meant for the poor, with active involvement by the World Bank and with “accessibility” as one of its stated objectives.

Transparent Chennai is now working on a project on access to housing finance in low income neighbourhoods, and one of the sites that is of interest to us is Muthamizh Nagar in Kodungaiyur that benefited from the World Bank Sites and Services scheme (with the Tamil Nadu Housing Board)in the late 1970s. We were looking to locate the housing for the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) on the site map (and we at TC are obsessed with maps in general), and this is what we find:

In what seems to be a well-planned project, the EWS plots, A type (indicated with blue markers) and B type (indicated with orange markers), are the ones of interest to us. In the interior blocks 3, 4, 5 and 6, these houses are located in the most interior parts of the block, along the narrowest roads (16’ wide). That makes them furthest away from the widest main roads of the block, along which the High Income Group (HIG) and Middle Income Group (MIG) houses are situated. As for the peripheral blocks 1,2,7 and 8, the EWS occupy the fringes, again furthest away from the main roads. Additionally, these houses are also located along sewage channels that sort of outline the site, and next to industrial plots.

In a housing program that aims to prioritize housing for the EWS sections,this is strange and most ironic. EWS houses make up around 78% of all houses in the project, and all these are (meticulously planned and) placed in the most inconvenient parts of the site. Sure, true to its name, the site per se also has services and amenities such as adequate balwadis, playgrounds and health centres located within itself, but accessibility cannot be just about these things, and certainly cannot be discriminatory.

Living next to industrial plots obviously cannot be pleasant – air and noise pollution are inevitable. (Even if we were to give the planners the benefit of doubt for choosing to locate potential labourers in these industries close to their livelihoods, living right next to industrial plots can hardly be an ideal situation.)  Many residents discussed the problems with being located next to sewage canals – the stench, the mosquitoes and the mediocre sanitation is general. Not many regular efforts have been taken up by the Corporation to address these issues either, unless repeated complaints were recorded from the residents who sometimes get together themselves to clean the canal.Fancy the affluent doing that.

Narrow roads may have not-so-obvious inconveniences. Garbage collection may prove tougher than usual, because the trucks cannot come into these streets, and thus, garbage accumulation is more likely. A resident commented on how her daughter is dropped a long way away from her house in the middle of the night because big IT company buses cannot come into her road. The Metro Water lorry also can stop only on wide streets, and that means that those living on the narrow, interior ones, especially those in A type houses, have to walk considerable distances to fetch water for everyday use. Another mentioned how the road has not been laid in 11 years – Corporation workers are quick to wash their hands off a tiny, seemingly insignificant street as not being a part of their jurisdiction. These streets are not particularly suited for upward mobility either – if residents were able to afford cars, they cannot even drive them into their own streets, forget being able to park them there. (This again is ironic, because housing for the poor was meant to be made affordable by means of cross subsidization. Since price of HIG and MIG plots/houses were high, real estate prices of the whole area shot up[1], and it seems from field work, that the site has been considerably gentrified.) Alternately, those who are least likely to be able to afford vehicles of their own are the ones who have to walk the longest distances to get to the market and main roads of the neighbourhood. What accessibility are we talking about?

(Although, to provide some perspective to the gentrification issue, this is a problem in most affordable housing projects in the city. Home ownership is highly valued, but still, the poor often rent out or sell their free/subsidized housing for income.And in a large, ever growing city, there is always high demand for housing. Thus, housing for the poor often goes into the hands of the not-so-poor.)

This has been one of the distressing revelations of the project so far, even if not directly related to what we are mainly researching. We hope to write about more such as we go along – not just the distressing ones, but also some encouraging ones, hopefully.

Priti Narayan and S.P. Srinivasan, Research Associates.


[1]Wadhwa, K. 1988. ‘Housing Programmes for Urban Poor: Shifting Priorities’. Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 23, No. 34 (Aug. 20, 1988), pp. 1762-1767. Accessed at http://www.jstor.org/stable/4378932

How do we turn the rhetoric about transparency and accountability into reality?

‘Good governance is the sine qua non for speedy socio-economic development. This Government will address the governance deficit by bringing in better accountability, transparency and ensuring effective delivery of public services through e-Governance initiatives without corruption’.

This is a quote from a recent speech made by Mr. Panneerselvam, our Minister for Finance, while presenting the Revised Budget for 2011-2012 to the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly on August 4th, 2011. It was an important statement to make- it articulates a pressing need for greater transparency in our state and acknowledges a deficit in the past.

However, if we use our government’s management of the 2011 local body elections as a litmus test to appraise its commitment to better governance in our state, it seems like pledges for greater transparency have not yet translated into action.

When saying this, I am not really referring to the fact that there are issues concerning the delimitation and reservation of constituencies (which has caused much brouhaha and allegations of misconduct by DMK Chief M. Karunanidhi and others). After all, gerrymandering is not really a new phenomenon. What I am referring to instead is the much (surprisingly) less spoken about issue concerning the date of release of the new ward maps in the public domain (22nd September, less than a month before the elections)- and how it favors established parties, and marginalizes independents.

Let me elaborate. Lets say for example you are a resident in Shastri Nagar, and you want to nominate yourself for the elections. Now, if it were five years ago you would know that you were in Ward 152 (Adyar East), and while a detailed map of the ward is not publicly available, preparations could be made to obtain it and you could have started a streetwise campaign with sufficient time before the elections. This year however, you would have no clue what streets come under your ward, let alone your ward number until September 22nd! This gives you less than a month to plan your election campaign, not at all enough time considering you will be facing off against candidates from the AIDMK, the DMK and other large parties who have access to much better resources, including an established voter base and a party cadre who can help with campaigning.

This is particularly a shame because the nature of these elections, with its small constituencies, make it an ideal place for independents to contest, like a concerned resident of that area who is savvy to the local issues that define that area. I do not mean to say that big party candidates are not locally informed, but independents do not have to align themselves with the broader goals of the party and can thus be more focused on locally salient issues.

There are certainly some improvements – there is a website devoted to the local body elections and you can download documents pertaining to the elections (although a number of links on the site are broken) but at the moment it still feels like an afterthought.

As of now our government’s pledges for governance still feel like rhetoric. With the new boundaries coming in to play this time, the chances of an ordinary, non party-aligned citizen becoming a councilor seems even more remote.

Siddharth Hande